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Sania is living out her dream

By Kamesh Srinivasan

IN A LEAGUE OF HER OWN: Sania Mirza, seen with her sister Anam here, is having a fabulous year. — Photo: P.V. Sivakumar

NEW DELHI, FEB. 15. Sania Mirza has moved into the big league. Getting into the top 100 of women's tennis is indeed a phenomenal achievement, and it is even more remarkable that she is the first Indian to do so.

Just about the same time last year Sania was ranked in the 400s and she went on to have a splendid season, eventually breaking into the top 200 before 2004 came to an end.

Sania won six singles titles from nine finals, including two at the $25,000 level. She could have signed off the season on a more positive note, but for missing three matchpoints in the final against the third-seeded Sesil Karatantcheva of Bulgaria, at Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, in a $50,000 event on clay in December.

Sania had beaten the 75th-ranked top-seeded Anna-Lena Groenfeld of Germany in the semifinals. Incidentally, Groenfeld conceded her semifinal match in Hyderabad to Alyona Bondarenko of Ukraine.

Sania has stunned everyone with her superlative performances in the Australian Open and in Hyderabad, after having fallen in the second round of the qualifying event at Hobart in an $110,000 tournament. Now, she has won the heart of the nation.

Accomplishments galore

It may be noted that right from taking the Indian under-16 girls team to No. 5 in the World in junior Fed Cup in 2002, to winning the Asian junior championship the same year as the first Indian girl, to winning the Wimbledon junior doubles title in 2003, to pocketing a dozen ITF women's singles titles in Africa, Europe and the U.S., after winning her maiden WTA crown back home in Hyderabad, to making the transition into the Challenger tournaments with equal poise and grace, Sania has always handled the pressure of expectations pretty smart.

The stint with Bob Brett has done wonders to her game. However the day she converts her serve into a weapon as fierce as her forehand and as stable as her double-fisted backhand, Sania will be brushing shoulders with the elite in the top 20.

In winning eight matches and her maiden WTA Tour singles title, Sania has already collected 187 points from three tournaments this season.

She has already pocketed $54,254 in prize money, taking her career collection past the $100,000 mark.

Rapid rise

If you compare it with the 193 WTA singles points that she won in the whole of 2004, when she won four titles at the $10,000 level, two at the $25,000 level apart from reaching three other finals including one $50,000 and a $25,000 event, you will be able to appreciate the speed of growth.

Sania has thus bought herself plenty of time to move ahead purposefully.

She needs to add another 300 points to break into the top-50, assuming that she is successful in defending the 193 points won last year.

Sania got 117 WTA points for winning the $140,000 Hyderabad Open. She got six points for every $10,000 tournaments she won. The two $25,000 titles got her 57 points, while the final appearance in the $50,000 event had fetched her 36 points. The best 17 results count for a player's singles ranking.

Sania's next tournament is likely to be the $585,000 tournament in Dubai. Though it will be too early to expect her to get the winner's purse of 195 points there, apart from the bonus points, even a few rounds will do her cause a world of good.

Quite crucially, Sania's impressive ranking will fetch her entries in a number of top events including the Grand Slams. A good run or two anywhere and you will find Sania in the top 50.

Sania will be playing fewer events, while training and resting adequately, which may hopefully mean that her body would not be put to too much of a strain and the injuries would be kept away.

Of course, the world knows that Sania has moved into the super fast lane, after a fresh beginning in Hyderabad.

So, fasten your seat belts, and get ready for some exhilarating action, and be sure to watch the milestones as they pass by a blur.

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